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456 Distressed

 He Zhichu looked at Gu Yanran, and his usually indifferent expression appeared slightly feigned for a moment. Then, like a raindrop melting into the ocean, it was gone without a trace. Gu Nianzhi glanced at He Zhichu and saw him smile briefly at Gu Yanran so she also nodded politely. "Miss Gu," she said. Then she turned to Xue Jingjiang. "Brother Xue, are you having dinner with Miss Gu?"

"Of course! That's why I'm here. Unfortunately, she's not accepting my offer!" Xue Jingjiang winked. "Hmm? You're not with Huo Shao?" This was a tricky question. Gu Nianzhi knew if she didn't answer correctly, she could give the wrong impression.

Gu Nianzhi played along with him. "It's Sunday night. Huo Shao has to work, and I have school. When can we have dinner together, Xue Jingjiang?"

"Oh, ha!" Although Xue Jingjiang was speaking to Gu Nianzhi, he was looking at Gu Yanran out of the corner of his eye. For some reason, Gu Yanran was being very friendly towards Gu Nianzhi. The older woman walked up to take Gu Nianzhi's hand, draped her arm around Gu Nianzhi's shoulder, and gave her a gentle squeeze.

"Nianzhi, it's so nice to run into you." She looked at He Zhichu. "Lawyer He, do you want to join our table?"

"We already ate." He Zhihcu was very cordial to Gu Yanran and didn't have his typical icy distance towards her. He inclined his chin slightly. "You two eat. I'll take Nianzhi back to campus first."

Gu Yanran could only move aside and watch He Zhichu and Gu Nianzhi leave the restaurant. Xue Jingjiang noticed Gu Yanran's eyes didn't follow the elegant and handsome He Zhichu, but lingered on Gu Nianzhi. He couldn't help laughing. "Yanran, why are you looking at Nianzhi that way?"

"How am I looking at her?" Gu Yanran glanced around with amazement and instinctively touched her face. "Did I look scary? Did I frighten Nianzhi? Oh no, what should I do? I don't want her to be scared of me."

"Hmph! Why would she be scared of you?" Xue Jingjiang shook his head. "Nianzhi isn't a calculating person, and she's not timid either. I'm telling you, there isn't a person alive who could grow up under Huo Shaoheng and turn out timid."

"Oh? Is that right? I heard you mention that before. Didn't you say Nianzhi is Huo Shao's distant relative?" Xue Jingjiang noted that Gu Yanran seemed very interested in Gu Nianzhi and Huo Shaoheng's relationship. He finally had a topic to discuss with her, and he wasn't about to let it go. The pair chatted and walked into the restaurant together. They also happened to sit at the table by the window where Gu Nianzhi and Ma Qiqi had first ordered their meals. After placing their orders, they continued to talk. Unfortunately, Xue Jingjiang wasn't very familiar with Huo Shaoheng's affairs, and most of what he said was his subjective speculations. Gu Yanran noticed this after listening for a while, but she didn't interrupt his exaggerated rambling. Instead, she kept smiling at Xue Jingjiang and encouraged him to continue. "So you're saying she was brought under Huo Shao's care six years ago? How old was she back then?"

"12? Or maybe 13? I don't remember clearly." Xue Jingjiang was only guessing her age. He didn't actually know under what circumstances Huo Shaoheng had begun caring for her. But this bit of news was enough for Gu Yanran. She continued to smile and chat with Xue Jingjiang, but her mind was preoccupied with Gu Nianzhi. Gu Nianzhi's entire situation was so similar to her sister's. What was going on, she wondered. As she thought, her eyes drifted out the window and suddenly focused on something out the window.

...

Gu Nianzhi followed He Zhichu out of the restaurant. He turned to her.

"You wait here. I'll go get the car."

"I can walk back myself," Gu Nianzhi quickly refused. "We're not far from campus. I walked here with Qiqi."

"Don't worry, I can get the car in no time. Just wait for three minutes." He Zhichu patted Gu Nianzhi's shoulder and left no room for discussion. He walked so quickly Gu Nianzhi didn't bother following him. The car was just a few steps away, so Gu Nianzhi decided to wait. She put her hands in her trouser pockets, stood by a tree in front of the restaurant, and hummed while she waited for He Zhichu to return. After some time, she felt the back of her neck burn like someone was staring at her. Gu Nianzhi looked back casually and assumed she was just being paranoid until she spied a familiar figure out of the corner of her eye. She turned around, and her mouth dropped with shock. Standing under another tree was a tall and handsome man in a black trenchcoat. It was Huo Shaoheng!

Huo Shaoheng saw Gu Nianzhi looking at him and froze for a second before slowly walking out from under the tree. They stood underneath the trees, staring at each other. Maybe it was shock or the fact that they were in a fight, but neither of them walked over to the other. They just looked at each other from across the small flower bush. The streetlamps in front of the trees glowed with incandescent light and illuminated the brighter areas and darkened the shadows. Between black and white, light and dark, the pair looked at each other. The hustle and bustle of the restaurant, along with the great red lanterns, all became their background. After a long moment, the squeal of tires broke the silence between them. Gu Nianzhi instinctively looked in the direction of the noise. He Zhichu had returned in his car. He parked on the side of the road and got out to stand beside Gu Nianzhi. Then he looked at Huo Shaoheng on the other side of the flower bushes and said, "Mr. Huo, you are here for dinner too?"

Huo Shaoheng nodded at He Zhichu. "Good evening, Professor He." He paused and offered his hand to Gu Nianzhi. "Nianzhi, come here."

Gu Nianzhi bit her lip. After a long moment, she finally said, "Professor He, you can go home. I still have something to take care of."

He Zhichu was acutely aware of Gu Nianzhi's quandary and noticed a trace of something strange in the interaction between her and Huo Shaoheng. However, he didn't say anything more but bowed slightly at Huo Shaoheng. "Mr. Huo, I'll ask you to take Nianzhi home then." He turned to Gu Nianzhi. "Is half an hour long enough to solve this problem? If it's okay, I'll call you half an hour from now to see if you're back at your dorm."

Huo Shaoheng calmly observed He Zhichu's underhanded jab but continued to offer his hand to Gu Nianzhi and repeated, "Nianzhi, come here." His voice was getting lower.

Gu Nianzhi knew this meant Huo Shaoheng's anger was growing, and she quickly replied to He Zhichu, "One hour. One hour will be enough."

"One hour isn't enough." Seeing that Gu Nianzhi wasn't coming over, Huo Shaoheng finally strode over. "Professor He, Nianzhi will be attending class on time tomorrow." As he spoke, he took Gu Nianzhi's hand and turned to leave.

Huo Shaoheng dragged Gu Nianzhi, and she stumbled. She couldn't help turning back to glance at He Zhichu. He stood alone under the bright street lights. The lights illuminated the top of his head, and only his exceptionally elegant figure was visible. His face was hidden in shadows, and his expression was inscrutable. Gu Nianzhi suddenly pitied him and turned around to wave. "Professor He! Please, you can go home! I'll come to your office tomorrow morning!"

Huo Shaoheng tightened his grip but didn't look back as he quickly dragged Gu Nianzhi away.

He Zhichu's expression dimmed as he raised his hand in an "okay" gesture. Then he opened his car door and drove off.

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Huo Shaoheng held onto Gu Nianzhi's hand until they stopped in front of the Hummer parked on the opposite side of the road. He opened the door and spoke coldly to Gu Nianzhi. "Get in the car."

"Huo Shao, it's already really late," Gu Nianzhi stammered. She tried to be courageous, but it was very difficult to defy Huo Shaoheng. She no confidence in herself and, if Huo Shaoheng left without another word, she thought she would chase after him.

"This won't take much time." Huo Shaoheng looked away and replied calmly, "But you don't have to come." He didn't try persuading Gu Nianzhi again but used all his self-control to move away from Gu Nianzhi's side and walk to the driver's seat. He stuck the key into the ignition and put both hands on the steering wheel without looking at her, the same way he had in the Special Ops seduction resistance training. Seeing that Huo Shaoheng wasn't joking, Gu Nianzhi quickly opened the door and got in.

...

Inside, Gu Yanran and Xue Jinjiang witnessed the whole confrontation through the restaurant's French window. Huo Shaoheng's Hummer drove off with Gu Nianzhi, but Gu Yanran didn't look away for a long time.

Xue Jinjiang coughed softly and said, "Yanran, they're gone..."

Gu Yanran composed herself and smiled at him. "Huo Shao seems very strict with Nianzhi. I feel sorry for her."